By: Mike Feld
After clinching the franchise’s third straight postseason appearance, the team reacted to the the 4-2 victory over the Twins in the same manner it had in the previous 91 wins before it — a few handshakes, a few hugs and some subtle smiles.
One could hardly tell the team had locked up another October appearance. It was far removed from the celebrations in Boston, Cincinnati or Pittsburgh.
Or the Tigers just a handful of seasons ago.
When Detroit ended its baseball playoff drought in 2006, the postseason-clinching reaction was priceless. On the road in Kansas City, music blared; champagne flowed. The unforgettable image of owner Mike Ilitch jumping into the arms of then-franchise player Pudge Rodriguez made for a historical Detroit moment on live television.
Seven years later, it was business as usual.
It’s not because manager Jim Leyland shut a party down. In fact, Leyland said after the game that he’s not opposed to having a celebration in honor of a clinch.
That party, however, is reserved for an AL Central title.
For those worked up about the Tigers struggles this season — the ones who keep repeating that it’s World Series or bust — don’t forget that the team echoes those thoughts. The management wants it. The coaches and manager want it. The players want it.
There’s no such thing as excitement for a postseason berth anymore.
Tuesday’s subdued celebration wasn’t fabricated; there’s just no excitement for a postseason run.
That’s not a bad thing. An extended season is no longer a reward; it’s a requirement. Getting to the World Series is the benchmark, and winning it is the premium.
Ilitch has operated that way with the Red Wings, and it’s given the organization – and its fans – hope for a Stanley Cup parade each June.
It’s been the same M.O. for the Tigers all season. For anyone who thinks otherwise, look at Tuesday’s reaction to yet another clinching moment.
It was similar to when the Wings clinched the Western Conference title in 2002. Just like this current Tigers team, the Red Wings loaded their roster with top talent by unloading their checkbook. There was only one goal: win it all.
So when the team predictably qualified for the Stanley Cup Finals, Captain Steve Yzerman skated to center ice, smiled for the obligatory postgame photo, picked up the Clarence Campbell Bowl and skated directly into the tunnel. No celebrations; no hugs; no pushing the Western Conference Champion hats.
Ever since then, it’s been an unwritten rule among hockey captains to keep their hands off the conference title trophies.
The Tigers won’t follow the same path. They’ll uncork bottles when the Central is won and will likely do the same if the AL pennant is locked up.
But the party will wrap up earlier than usual. The best celebrations have been reserved for the Fall Classic.
And anytime it seems like the Tigers are still settling for the runner-up spot, use Tuesday as a reminder of how far the team has come – and how far it plans to go.